Swift Fox


Together we can help protect the swift fox
Together we can help protect the swift fox
Your Bring Back the Wild campaign will help set up cameras to gather information about their population
Your Bring Back the Wild campaign will help set up cameras to gather information about their population

How We're Helping the Swift Fox

Protect Dates: September 2014- August 2015

Details: Through the help of kids just like you, Earth Rangers and the Calgary Zoo are protecting the swift fox (Vulpes velox). The donations raised for this Bring Back the Wild project are helping to:

  • Set up cameras in areas where swift foxes are thought to live to gather previously unknown scientific data about habitat occupancy during the summer when they are raising their young
  • Compare summer habitat occupancy with where swift foxes spend the winter

Check out the latest updates about swift foxes!

swift fox

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  • Swift foxes get their name because of their speediness. They can sprint at a top speed of around 60km/hr – that’s three times faster than the average human can run!
  • Unlike most other foxes, swift foxes use their dens throughout the year, not just during the breeding season.
  • They are nocturnal, coming out mostly at night to hunt and spending the day either in their den or sunning themselves near the entrance.
  • Swift foxes are the smallest members of the dog family, but have vertical pupils, similar to cats, and have excellent night vision.
  • Swift foxes were listed as endangered until 2009, after which their status was down-listed to threatened (COSEWIC 2009).

swift fox pup
Photo credit: Gordon Court
Swift fox
Photo credit: Gordon Court

The swift fox is the smallest member of the dog family in North America. They are about 50 cm long with a 30 cm long tail, roughly the size of a large house cat. Males weigh 2.5 kg and females are slightly smaller at 2.3 kg. Even though these foxes are in the canid or dog family and related to animals like coyotes and wolves, they have vertical pupils and excellent night vision similar to cats.. They have orange-brown fur with white patches on their chest and belly, large ears, a black-tipped tail and black markings on their nose. In the winter the swift fox’s fur is long and dense but in the summer it becomes short, coarse and more reddish-grey in colour. Swift foxes are nocturnal, and therefore are most active at night. During the day they spend their time in the den or sunning themselves near their den entrance. Named after their speed, adult swift foxes can run over 60 km/hr, three times faster than the average human.

Swift fox in grass
Photo credit: Flickr user USFWS Mountain Prairie

This species originally had a habitat range that extended from the plains of Western Canada down through the United States. Today, only a few scattered populations remain, the largest being in Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico and Wyoming. In Canada, swift foxes are mainly found in the short-grass and mixed-grass prairie habitats of southern Saskatchewan and Alberta. These open grasslands allow swift foxes to see better and move around more easily. Swift foxes use their den year-round; this is unique among foxes as most species den only during the breeding season. They can dig their own den, but they will often use existing dens made by smaller animals, enlarging or modifying the holes as needed. Dens are 2-4 m cm long and they can live in as many as 13 different dens throughout the year. Dens are built in sandy soil, and some consist of a single burrow and entrance while other dens have multiple entrances and burrows interconnected by tunnels.

Photo credit: Flickr user, Brad Smitsh
Photo credit: Flickr user Brad Smitsh

Swift foxes depend on grassland habitat and the diverse species of plants and animals found in this ecosystem. In Canada, some of the plant species needed to create this habitat include buffalo grass, bluestem and wire grass. Grasslands are increasingly being degraded by human development, replaced by roads, buildings and agriculture. Another one of the major threats faced by swift foxes is from coyotes, both by being attacked by them and from accidental poisonings. Poisons are sometimes used to control coyote populations, but are sometimes accidentally ingested by swift foxes. Because coyotes have such a big effect on swift foxes, it is critical to monitor their populations and learn more about the way these two species interact.

Swift fox
Photo credit: Flickr user J. N. Stuart

Swift foxes are opportunistic omnivores, meaning they eat a variety of food; whatever is readily available and easy to catch. They hunt small animals like mice, rabbits, prairie dogs and squirrels, but will also eat a variety of grasses and fruit as well as insects, reptiles and amphibians. Like many foxes, the swift fox relies on stealth and surprise to catch their prey. They have a high pounce, which is one of the first things cubs learn as they being to hunt.

swift fox family
Photo credit: Gordon Court

Adults usually mate in pairs, often staying with their partner for life. Males look for a partner when they are one year old, while females start breeding when they are two years old. The pair will breed once per year. In Canada, where the winters are harsh, breeding occurs in March. After 51 days, a litter of around two to-five kits are born sometime between April and May. The kits are born with their eyes and ears closed; they will open them after 10-15 days. Young swift foxes are weaned after six- to seven weeks, and by the autumn they will depart the den and start heading off on their own. Females invest more time than the males in rearing the kits. Family groups usually consist of the breeding pair, their offspring from that year and sometimes one or two female young who remain in the breeding pair’s home range until they are two years old. “Helpers” may also be found at the parent’s den, which are sometimes males. These foxes assist in raising the young. More research is needed to learn how swift foxes care for their young, and the types of habitats they live in during the summer season when they are raising kits.

swift fox
Photo credit: Gordon Court

As little as 35 years ago there were no swift foxes left in the wild in Canada due to prairie habitat loss, trapping and hunting. Beginning in the 1980s they were re-introduced and populations started to increase in size. While re-introductions have been among the most successful of any mammal, these foxes still face threats including risk of disease exposure and the need for grassland conservation to ensure they will have a home in the future. Coyotes pose a major threat to swift foxes; they are also preyed on by such animals as eagles, red-tailed hawks, rough-legged hawks and American badgers. The majority of the swift fox population lives on privately-owned land, which also puts them at risk of hunting and trapping. The swift fox was listed as an endangered species, but in 2009 their status was downgraded to threatened (COSEWIC 2009).



Ausband D and A Moehrenschlager (2009).  Long-range juvenile dispersal and its implication for conservation of reintroduced swift fox Vulpes velox populations in the USA and Canada.  Oryx 43:73-77.

Carbyn L (1998).  Update COSEWIC status report on the swift fox Vulpes velox in Canada.  Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, Ottawa.

Cullingham CI and A Moehrenschlager (2013).  Temporal analysis of genetic structure to assess population dynamics of reintroduced swift foxes.  Conservation Biology 27:1389-1398.

Cushman SA, EL Landguth and CH Flather (2013).  Evaluating population connectivity for species of conservation concern in the American Great Plains.  Biodiversity Conservation 22:2583-2605.

Erickson P, P Fargey, S Forrest, M Green, B Martin, S Michalsky, J Nicholson and L Rodger (2004).  Initiative overview and digital atlas.  In K Smith Fargey, Ed. Shared Prairie-Shared Vision:  the Northern Mixed Grass Transboundary Conservation Initiative.  Conservation site planning workshop proceedings and digital atlas.

Gauthier DA and L Patino (1993).  Saskatchewan grassland ecological region.  Prepared for the Canadian Council of Ecological Areas and the World Wildlife Fund Canada.  Canadian Prairies Research Centre.  47 pp.

Haddad NM, DR Bowne, A Cunningham, BJ Danielson, DJ Levey, S Sargent and T Spira (2003).  Corridor use by diverse taxa.  Ecology 84:609-615.

Moehrenschlager A and DW Macdonald (2003).  Movement and survival parameters of translocated and resident swift foxes Vulpes velox.  Animal Conservation 6:199-206.

Moehrenschlager A and MA Sovada (2004).  Swift fox (Vulpes velox).  In C. Sillero-Zubiri, M Hoffmann and DW MacDonald, Eds Canids:  foxes, wolves, jackels, and dogs.  Status survey and conservation action plan.  IUCN/SSC Canid Specialists Group.

Poessel SA and EM Gese (2013).  Den attendance patterns in swift foxes during pup rearing:  varying degrees of parental investment within the breeding pair.  Journal of Ethology 31:193-201.

Pruss SD, P Fargey and A Moehrenschlager (2008).  Recovery strategy for the swift fox (Vulpes velox) in Canada.  Prepared in consultation with the Canadian swift fox recovery team.  Species at Rish Act Recovery Strategy Series.  Parks Canada Agency.  Vi + 25 pp.


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